World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly

Special World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Syria Faisal Mekdad addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (AP Photo)
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Updated 26 September 2022

World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly

World at ‘critical, dangerous point,’ Syrian FM warns UN General Assembly
  • Faisal Mekdad issues strongly worded attack on Western countries over ‘wars of occupation’
  • Attempts to ‘break the will of Syria and isolate it from the world’ have failed

LONDON: The Syrian regime has criticized Western-led interventions in the Middle East, telling the UN General Assembly on Monday that the world is at a “critical, dangerous point.”

Following a strongly worded attack on Western countries, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad issued an appeal to “meet the challenges of food insecurity, terrorism and climate change together.”

He described Syria’s decade-long conflict as having originated from “attempts by some countries to impose hegemony on others,” condemning decisions to “put a stranglehold on economies”, “flout international law” and wage “wars of occupation.”

The conflict is “ultimately an attempt by the West to maintain control over the world,” he added, warning that the attempt to “break the will of Syria and isolate it from the world” had failed.

Mekdad said Western countries have intervened in the Middle East under the “excuse of spreading democracy and human rights,” adding that terrorist groups labeled “moderates” were “used as tools.”

He claimed that by a deliberate undermining of Syria’s access to medication, food, fuel and basic goods, the country’s people have been punished by the West.

He called for the creation of a multipolar world order, overseen by the UN, to fulfil the organization’s charter and support its purpose.

Mekdad said Israel’s practices had raised tensions and caused instability in the Middle East. He alleged that during the conflict in Syria, Israel had covertly supported terror groups fighting in the country, including Daesh and Al-Nusra Front, in what he described as an “act of military aggression.”

Israel’s activities in the Golan Heights — which it captured from Syria in 1967 and illegally annexed in 1981 — are also cause for concern, he added, warning that Damascus will seek to “hold it accountable for these crimes.”

Syria continues to support Palestine becoming a full-fledged UN member, Mekdad said.

He highlighted some of the steps that the regime is making toward ending the conflict in Syria, arguing that it had consistently called for “national and local reconciliation in order to promote national unity.”

In that regard, Mekdad said the regime had signed 21 amnesty orders, “enabling Syrians to return to normal lives” and ending fighting around the country.

But he warned that as a result of Western “economic terrorism,” Syria has lost an estimated $107 billion in oil and gas revenues since 2011, leading to further economic issues.

Syria will continue to seek compensation for the lost revenues, Mekdad said, adding that the regime is “doing everything possible” to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground.

Turning to international issues, he said Syria supports the “right of Russia to secure its national territory,” adding: “Russia is defending not only itself, but justice and the right of humanity to reject unipolar hegemony.”

He also spoke of Syria’s support for China, arguing that Beijing has the right to protect its national sovereignty against “Western attempts” to influence events in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang.


Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank

Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank
Updated 15 min 39 sec ago

Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank

Palestinians: Teen killed in Israeli army raid in West Bank
  • 17-year-old Hamza Al-Ashqar died of a gunshot wound to the head
  • Since the start of this year, 42 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: The Palestinian Health Ministry said Tuesday that Israeli troops killed a Palestinian teenager in an army raid in the occupied West Bank.
He was the latest casualty in what is already one of the most violent periods in the West Bank in recent years.
The ministry said 17-year-old Hamza Al-Ashqar died of a gunshot wound to the head but provided no additional details about the incident. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
The incident came a day after Israeli forces killed five Palestinian gunmen linked to the Islamic militant Hamas group in a raid on refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli army has staged almost nightly raids across Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank since a series of deadly attacks in Israel last spring. The Palestinian Authority declared it would cease security coordination with Israel after 10 Palestinians were killed in a raid last month.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed last year in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Since the start of this year, 42 Palestinians have been killed in those territories. Palestinian attacks against Israelis killed some 30 people in 2022.
The Israeli army says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.


Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,800 in Turkiye, Syria

Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,800 in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 34 min 17 sec ago

Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,800 in Turkiye, Syria

Earthquake death toll rises to over 4,800 in Turkiye, Syria
  • Turkiye’s relief agency AFAD said 3,381 dead in the country, bringing the confirmed tally to 4,890
  • More than 5,600 buildings flattened across several cities

HATAY, Turkiye: Rescuers in Turkiye and Syria braved freezing darkness, aftershocks and collapsing buildings Tuesday, as they dug for survivors buried by a string of earthquakes that killed at least 4,800 people.
Disaster agencies said several thousand buildings were flattened in cities across a vast border region — pouring misery on an area already plagued by war, insurgency, refugee crises and a recent cholera outbreak.
Through the night, survivors used their bare hands to pick over the twisted ruins of multi-story apartment blocks — trying to save family, friends and anyone else sleeping inside when the first massive 7.8-magnitude quake struck early Monday.
“Where is my mum?” asked a distraught seven-year-old girl who was pulled — her face, hair and pyjamas covered in dust — from a collapsed building in Hatay, on the Turkish side of the border.
The sense of disbelief was widespread, as residents struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster.
“We thought it was the apocalypse,” said Melisa Salman, a 23-year-old reporter in the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras.
Some of the heaviest devastation occurred near the quake’s epicenter between Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, a city of two million where entire blocks now lie in ruins under gathering snow.
As residents tried to clear a mountain of masonry, plasterboard and furniture that had been a multi-story building, another collapsed nearby — sending crowds screaming and clamouring for safety.
With aftershocks continuously rattling the area, many terrified and exhausted survivors spent the night outdoors, too afraid to go home.
Some huddled under bus shelters, some wrapped themselves in plastic to repel the freezing rain and others burned debris to keep warm.
Mustafa Koyuncu packed his wife and their five children into their parked car.
“We can’t go home,” the 55-year-old told AFP. “Everyone is afraid.”
Turkiye’s relief agency AFAD put the latest death toll at 3,381 in that country alone — bringing the confirmed tally in both Turkiye and Syria to 4,890.
There are fears that the toll will rise inexorably, with World Health Organization officials estimating up to 20,000 may have died.
“There is a family I know under the rubble,” said 20-year-old student Omer El Cuneyd in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.
“Until 11:00 am or noon, my friend was still answering the phone. But she no longer answers. She is down there.”
Overwhelmed medics struggled to treat the estimated 20,000 injured.
The US Geological Survey said Monday’s first earthquake struck at 4:17 am (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 18 kilometers (11 miles).
The initial earthquake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Greenland and was followed by a series of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude tremor that struck in the middle of search and rescue work on Monday.
The impact was devastating and sparked a global response, with dozens of nations from Ukraine to New Zealand vowing to send help.
But a winter blizzard has covered major roads into the area in ice and snow and officials said three major airports have been rendered inoperable, complicating deliveries of vital aid.
Much of the quake-hit area of northern Syria has already been decimated by years of war and aerial bombardment by Syrian and Russia forces that destroyed homes, hospitals and clinics.
The conflict is already shaping the emergency response, with Syria’s envoy to the United Nations Bassam Sabbagh seemingly ruling out reopening border crossings that would allow aid to reach areas controlled by rebel groups.
The Syrian health ministry reported damage across the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Tartus, where Russia is leasing a naval facility.
Even before the tragedy, buildings in Aleppo — Syria’s pre-war commercial hub — often collapsed due to the dilapidated infrastructure.
Officials cut off natural gas and power supplies across the region as a precaution, and also closed schools for two weeks.
The UN cultural agency UNESCO expressed fears over heavy damage in two cities on its heritage list — Aleppo in Syria and Diyarbakir in Turkiye.
At a jail holding mostly Daesh group members in northwestern Syria, prisoners mutinied after the quakes, with at least 20 escaping, a source at the facility told AFP.
The United States, the European Union and Russia all immediately sent condolences and offers of help.
President Joe Biden promised his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States will send “any and all” aid needed to help recover from a devastating earthquake.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also offered to provide “the necessary assistance” to Turkiye, whose combat drones are helping Kyiv fight the Russian invasion.
Chinese state media said on Tuesday that Beijing was sending rescuers, medical teams and other supplies.
Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.
The country’s last 7.8-magnitude tremor was in 1939, when 33,000 died in the eastern Erzincan province.
The Turkish region of Duzce suffered a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999, when more than 17,000 people died.
Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, a megalopolis of 16 million people filled with rickety homes.


Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north

Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north
Updated 07 February 2023

Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north

Earthquake piles misery on war-ravaged Syrians in wintry north
  • Millions of people in northwest Syria have been left vulnerable by the conflict, with 2.9 million people in the region have been displaced
  • Young men could be seen clawing through debris and heaving hammers onto slabs of concrete to look for survivors

JANDARIS: Wailing children, flattened buildings and hospitals full of bodies — a devastating earthquake on Monday looked painfully familiar for Syrian families and rescuers worn down by nearly 12 years of bombardment and displacement.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake sent people rushing into the streets in the country’s north, where air strikes and shelling have already traumatized the population and weakened the foundations of many buildings.
In the rebel-held town of Jandaris in Aleppo province, a mound of concrete, steel rods and bundles of clothes lay where a multi-story building once stood.
“There were 12 families under there. Not a single one came out. Not one,” said a thin young man, his eyes wide open in shock and his hand bandaged.
“We were pulling people out ourselves at three in the morning,” he said, his breath visible in the cold winter air as he spoke.
Young men could be seen clawing through debris and heaving hammers onto slabs of concrete to look for survivors. Dented water tanks and solar panels had flown off roofs and landed on the damp ground.


The White Helmets, a rescue service founded in rebel-held territory to treat people hurt in bombardment, said at least 147 people were killed in opposition-held northwest Syria. In government-held territory, officials put the death toll at more than 300 with more than 1,000 injured.
In Turkiye, President Tayyip Erdogan said more than 900 people were killed and more than 5,000 injured.
“We are in a race against time to save the lives of those under the rubble. Even if our teams are exhausted, we don’t have time to rest,” White Helmets head Raed Fares told Reuters by phone.
He said air strikes over the years had left buildings structurally fragile so they “immediately collapsed,” ultimately leading to more deaths.
FREEZING TEMPERATURES
Millions of people in northwest Syria have been left vulnerable by the conflict, according to the United Nations, which says 2.9 million people in the region have been displaced and 1.8 million are living in camps.
The rescue teams have worked for years rescuing people from shelling and aerial raids by Syrian government or Russian forces which often hit the same location multiple times, risking paramedics’ lives.
“At least now, no one is going to bomb us as we work,” Fares said.
But the cold winter weather added another challenge for the rescue workers, who said families have been left exposed in near-freezing temperatures and heavy rains.

In the countryside of Idlib province, the earthquake damaged the modest structures set up in displacement camps hosting Syrians who had fled the war over the years, said Ahmad Al-Sheikh, a resident of a nearby border town.
Further west, the main hospital in the rebel-held town of Afrin was teeming with wounded residents writhing on the ground and women struggling to reach loved ones by phone as the lines were down.
Medics zipped up black body bags on a bloodstained floor as toddlers screamed in the background.
“Ambulance sirens are heard everywhere. People are shocked,” said Afrin resident Ibrahim Obaid. “The situation is so tragic. There’s so much fear and we still feel the tremors.”


At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake
Updated 07 February 2023

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake

At least 20 escape Syria prison holding Daesh inmates after quake
  • The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it could not verify whether prisoners had escaped, but confirmed there was a mutiny

AZAZ: Prisoners mutinied in a northwestern Syria prison Monday following a deadly earthquake, with at least 20 escaping the jail holding mostly Daesh group members, a source at the facility told AFP.
The military police prison in the town of Rajo near the Turkish border holds about 2,000 inmates, with about 1,300 of them suspected to be Daesh fighters, said the source.
The prison also holds fighters from Kurdish-led forces.
“After the earthquake struck, Rajo was affected and inmates started to mutiny and took control of parts of the prison,” said the official at Rajo jail, which is controlled by pro-Turkish factions.
“About 20 prisoners fled... who are believed to be Daesh militants.”
The 7.8-magnitude quake — which was followed by dozens of aftershocks in the region — caused damage to the prison, with walls and doors cracking, the source added.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it could not verify whether prisoners had escaped, but confirmed there was a mutiny.
At least 1,444 people died Monday across Syria after the devastating earthquake that had its epicenter in southwestern Turkiye, the government and rescuers said.
In rebel-held parts of the country’s northwest, at least 733 people were killed and more than 2,100 injured, according to the White Helmets rescue group.
The incident in Rajo comes on the heels of an Daesh attack in December on a security complex in their former de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa, which aimed to free fellow terrorists from a prison there.
Six members of the Kurdish-led security forces that control the area were killed in the foiled assault.
The conflict in Syria started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful protests and escalated to pull in foreign powers and global jihadists.
Nearly half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes, with many seeking refuge in Turkiye.

 


Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister
Updated 07 February 2023

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister

Frenchman held in Iran starts new hunger strike: sister
  • Philippe Valent, Briere’s France-based lawyer, called the espionage charges against him “fiction” and his trial “a parody staged by the Revolutionary Guards,” the branch of the Iranian security forces entrusted with the preservation of the regime

PARIS: Benjamin Briere, a French national held in Iran, has gone on hunger strike for the second time since his incarceration in May 2020, his sister and his lawyer said Monday.
Briere, who was sentenced to eight years in jail for espionage, is one of seven French and more than two dozen foreign nationals who campaigners say Iran has jailed in a strategy of hostage-taking to extract concessions from the West.
Held in the prison of Vakilabad in the eastern city of Mashhad, he had already gone on hunger strike once before, at the end of December 2021.
“It’s the only weapon he has,” his sister Blandine Briere said in a statement.
He stopped eating on January 28, she said.
Philippe Valent, Briere’s France-based lawyer, called the espionage charges against him “fiction” and his trial “a parody staged by the Revolutionary Guards,” the branch of the Iranian security forces entrusted with the preservation of the regime.
Briere, the lawyer said, is “mentally and physically exhausted” in the “gloomy” prison which he said was known for frequent “extra-judicial executions” of inmates.
Majidreza Rahnavard, 23, the second of four people executed over the protests, was held in Mashhad and hanged in public in the city on December 12.
The conditions of Briere’s incarceration were “exceptionally harsh,” and he was being denied his rights, Valent said.
Iran needed to be held accountable for the danger to Briere’s “physical and mental wellbeing,” the lawyer said.
Another detainee in Iran, 64-year-old Franco-Irish citizen Bernard Phelan held since October 1, last month suspended a hunger strike that included refusing water, at the request of his family who feared for his life.
Phelan, a Paris-based travel consultant was arrested while traveling and is being held in Mashhad in northeastern Iran.
Iran accuses him of anti-government propaganda, a charge he has denied.